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Of course, the fight isn’t over, but it may not be too soon to concern ourselves with winning the peace.hen I try to envision a better future, I find myself hoping for a society in which we all spend a little less time thinking and talking about politics. Never before has the political, in the narrowest, electoral sense of the word, so saturated every corner of our lives.
What Lewis was attempting to defend was not economically productive STEM research but the pursuit of learning with no obvious practical benefit, what we might romantically term “the life of the mind,” or, more bluntly, culture. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. Eliot, Simone Weil, and Jacques Maritain—through the war.
(“Culture in War-Time” was the subtitle he initially gave the talk.) Lewis didn’t argue, as today’s humanists like to do, that this pursuit teaches “critical thinking” or some other skill necessary for the challenges of the moment. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal. Jacobs focuses on Christian thinkers, but, as he acknowledges—and as has been outlined in other recent books such as Mark Greif’s —intellectuals of all stripes were concerned in these years with much the same problem.
This is the question Lewis sought to address in his sermon.
The role of the modern corporate university in any war effort is fairly clear today, but at the time Oxford and its peers were still largely dedicated to the humanities.
We carefully parse the public and private behavior of actors, musicians, and tech developers for its political meaning, and we do our shopping and our cultural consumption with this knowledge close at hand.
We are acutely aware of the political implications of every decision we make, and when we aren’t there is always someone waiting on social media to remind us of them.If you are not obsessed with Trump, or if your obsession is not enacted on a daily basis, this can only mean that you do not care about civil rights or justice or even basic standards of truth.Naturally, we are all a bit demoralized by our obsession—none of us would wish it this way—but what choice do we really have?No matter how far we are from Election Day, there is always a new scrap of information to be assimilated into our long-term forecasts.I was an assistant editor at this magazine during the 2008 campaign, when I witnessed a lot of wide-ranging conversations about the political future. Bush years had been kind to ) were still in thrall to liberal interventionism.On our way to work in the morning we catch up on the latest news from Washington, at our desks during the day we procrastinate by posting and tweeting about it, and at home each night we relax—if that’s the word—by watching Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert make it into a joke.We have come to expect political gestures at sporting events, awards shows, and other places where they were once notably rare.He merely noted that if there were no place for “intellectual and aesthetic activity” in wartime, there would be no place for it at any time, because, he said, war does not fundamentally change our situation—“it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it”: Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. which follows Lewis and a handful of other writers— W. As the war went on, the total mobilization that had just begun when Lewis gave his sermon came to look in many eyes almost too successful; the industrial technocrats who’d been put in charge of society in the name of wartime efficiency were not likely to cede their control when the fighting was done.Among religious and secular humanists alike, there was a growing worry that, to use a phrase that Reinhold Niebuhr popularized, they might win the war but lose the peace. Even before hostilities officially began, some of Lewis’s Oxford colleagues had wondered whether the university should be temporarily closed “in the event of an international emergency.” Could the work of Oxford and places like it—turning young men of fighting age into philosophers, scholars, and critics—be justified at such a moment? Lewis delivered a sermon at Oxford’s University Church, later published under the title “Learning in War-Time.” World War II had been under way for just a few weeks, and most people in England were starting to recognize the unprecedented level of mobilization the war effort would require.